People from outside Taiwan who support my beloved homeland tend to find themselves in the strangest company.
Leftists and rightists who would gouge each other's eyes out on any other issue frequently embrace to defend Taiwanese self-determination.
Let me qualify that ... and apologize in advance for the crudity of my generalizations. Perhaps I should say that foreigners who are “practical” leftists (eg, human rights and labor activists, church workers on the ground) embrace rightist “ideologues” (eg, pro-defense, pro-conservative values, anti-big government and commiephobes) to defend Taiwanese self-determination.
On the other hand, foreigners who are “practical” rightists (corporate barons, US State Department policy mavens) and leftist “ideologues” (Cultural Revolution nostalgia peddlers, Hugo Chavez and other hopelessly confused or dishonest people) prefer the banquet of largess and hubris that China offers over the less-than-lucrative blasphemy of Taiwanese nationalism.
In the middle, people sit on the fence and are not inclined to believe in very much at all except something that hovers between unenlightened self-interest and family values, neither of which offers much guidance on what to do with cross-strait difficulties.
So you see, dear reader, how odd it is for people to call the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) “right wing.”
For liberals, this is an attempted insult. That is, “The KMT are the bad guys, what with their populism bordering on fascism, repressive tendencies and corporatism, so they must be right-wing.”
But a conservative can say: “The KMT are the bad guys, what with their socialist heritage, big government, contempt for constitutional integrity and collapsible principles that augur panda-hugging, so they must be left wing.”
The truth is that both the KMT and the Democratic Progressive Party contain what most people would call leftists, rightists, liberals and conservatives on any given issue, and this means that neither party can be easily placed on a left-right spectrum. The real issue seems to be nationalism, but even beneath that we so often see naked self-aggrandizement calling the shots (don’t get me started on the Taiwanese defection gene). So, when it comes to ideological coherence, things fall apart pretty quickly.
If you haven’t fallen asleep, let me explain why I’m peddling such gibberish.
Not long after last week’s column, I received a series of e-mails from a respected source in the US with knowledge of the workings of The Heritage Foundation, probably the most influential think tank stateside.
Heritage is a very conservative bunch of people. It has a fascinating history that will appall or delight according to your political bent. But one thing is certain: For years it has been home to solid advocacy of freedom from communist thuggery, even when Republican presidents gave up the ghost.
In the past, Taiwan was a US interest mostly because it was anti-communist. Today, things aren’t so simple: the Chicoms and their despised Siamese twin, the KMT, are rejoining at the hip in a manner likely to injure the overwhelming majority of Taiwanese and cripple the integrity of a budding democracy.
Heritage’s most hardline, pro-Taiwan commentator — indeed, one of the most hardline in the US — is John Tkacik (also an occasional Taipei Times columnist), a former diplomat, who has written years of analysis on such matters.
But that has all come to a sinister end. My informant told me that Tkacik has been removed from his post at Heritage as Senior Research Fellow.
Unfortunately, with people too nervous or professionally vulnerable to go on the record, I can’t print most of what was said in the e-mails, including one particularly explicit and disturbing allegation. My legal budget extends about as far as challenging a ticket for double parking.
When I contacted Tkacik, he would not confirm or deny that he had been forced out.
When I asked one of Tkacik’s colleagues the same question, however, he replied: “John announced to Heritage Foundation staff today that he’s leaving in January to focus on writing a couple books. He leaves on good terms. And we at the ASC [Asian Studies Center] look forward to continuing contact with him.”
Hmm. A classic “non-denial denial,” as they say, though it must be said that this example of the practice was very respectful toward Tkacik.
But let’s face it: with an economy going down the shitter, if people want to write books, they go on leave, not just ... leave.
The obvious question is: Who would dance with joy to see Tkacik shorn of institutional respectability? Here are some possibilities, though they’re not the only ones:
1. The Chinese government;
2. Taiwan’s KMT government;
3. US individuals/groups/firms with Chinese interests;
4. A rival colleague(s).
Just out of curiosity, when I asked if Heritage could identify “the exact amount of money that the Taiwanese government donates to Heritage formally or informally,” an official kindly sent me a reply.
He said: “The Heritage Foundation receives no funding from the government of Taiwan. And the ASC is entirely a part of The Heritage Foundation. ASC does not have any independent source of income.”
Now that’s a denial. And just as well, too. Gracious, what would have been the ramifications of the top US conservative think tank taking conditional cash from a government that longs for China to be more powerful than the US one day?
So, for now, I’ll have to leave you in suspense on why Tkacik is no longer at Heritage. My humble message to him on behalf of Taiwan’s concussed democrats is: Thank you, John, and Godspeed.
Whatever the truth of the matter, with Tkacik’s removal The Heritage Foundation could be moving from the broad church of conservative ideology and rightist practice to the wilderness of rightist practice alone, at least as far as China and Taiwan are concerned.
Given Heritage’s influence, and even under the Barack Obama administration, this bodes even more poorly for US policymaking — and Taiwan’s freedom — because at a time of brutal economic damage, the trend for philistines who make up a large part of the right-wing “practice” crew is to generate income while spurning principle. This is a mating call for a Chinese government that holds the shellshocked US taxpayer by both cojones.
Whichever way you look at it, Taiwan is hurting badly in US think tank land.
Let’s see what happens next. Will there be more blood on the lectern? How will Heritage’s line on Taiwan/China change and who will be its new face?
A last word. I am intrigued at what all those Heritage donors reeling from the economic crisis would say if they find out that their beloved foundation has, in effect, given the KMT and the Chinese government a morale-boosting victory over advocates of freedom in Asia.
But old Johnny says to Heritage: Fear not, chaps. Take a leaf from the KMT and transcend the great Left-Right divide. If those donors start closing their checkbooks, there’s a swath of individuals and companies who would line up to fill the vacuum in order to make the Dragon smile.
Go on, my conservative friends, do the unthinkable: Give those pinkos a call! After all, their cash is the same shade of green.
Got something to tell Johnny? Go on, get it off your chest. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, but be sure to put “Dear Johnny” in the subject line or he’ll mark your bouquets and brickbats as spam.
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